Author: Grzegorz Goli
SAP Business Intelligence and SAP Business Objects
What is Business Intelligence (BI)? In a word, Business Intelligence is compounded of all the IT solutions responsible for extracting, transforming, and loading data, as well as different types of information operating, reporting and analysis. Along that, Business Objects (BO) is one of the market leaders in Business Intelligence area.
Business Objects company was settled in 1990, in Paris. Even the very first years of its activity were full of successes and quite profitable, what resulted in company's debut in NASDAQ market. Along market existence, came the cooperation with the largest and the most meaningful enterprises from all over the World.
What Business Objects has to offer to its customers?
Mainly, Business Objects is a company concentrated about vending databases and applications supporting data management. Furthermore, BO offerings include solutions for enterprise performance management, as well as diverse Business Intelligence solutions designed especially for tiny and medium-size companies.
Flagship products of Business Objects have been included in the scheme below:
Business Objects XI Enterprise
Among a few main products, one might be described as a factor determining Business Objects market success. Business Objects XI Enterprise is a rightful, independent BI platform ideal for usage in the largest enterprises. The widest-known and - simultaneously - the most successful product in Business Objects' portfolio was designed for supporting data quality management, data integration, ad-hoc information analysis, reporting (including print-oriented formatting), and data visualization cockpits for managers. Finally, facilitated data sharing and compatibility with Microsoft Office suite, coupled with multiple functionality and high performance, make Business Objects XI Enterprise a really efficient solution.
BO Enterprise Performance Management
Second large, meaningful product of Business Objects is BO Enterprise Performance Management - the wide range of applications and solutions designed especially for the largest companies. The aim of the whole tools packet is supporting all the processes necessary for Performance Management (Enterprise Performance Management - EPM). What features are provided by Business Objects Enterprise Performance Management?
Diverse types of results cards, manager cockpits, systems supporting planning, budgeting and prognosis. Furthermore, Business Objects EPM suite guarantees innovative solutions for consolidating an enterprise and financial evaluating demanded periods for active-based costing (ABC). The same as financial and risk analysis, predicting profitability and financial modeling. Finally, all the tools offer indispensable security, supporting Financial Governance.
Both solutions presented above refer to the largest enterprises. That doesn't mean Business Objects creates solutions only for customers from that segment. There are also a lot of offerings for large- and medium-sized companies and the two most-known of them - Business Objects Edge and Crystal products family.
Business Objects Edge includes Business Intelligence solutions for customers from medium- and tiny-sized companies segment. Basing on proven standards - Crystal Enterprise and Crystal Xcelsius, they efficiently support managing.
Finally, the last two products of Business Objects are a bit different. They're usually being described together, as they're almost similar. The main difference between them applies to their destination - Crystal Reports Server are designed to function as a standalone reporting server, while Crystal Reports demands integrating into .Net application. All in all, both solutions are dedicated for usage in small- and medium-sized companies. According to applications' specific, both solutions are wanted by companies keen only on reporting aspect. From the whole range of Business Intelligence applications, Crystal Server and Crystal Reports refer exclusively to reporting, offering its multidimensional functionality. While both solutions' specific doesn't allow self-dependent functioning, they're usually - as a proven environment for reporting and analysis - developed with other vendors' offerings.
Acquisition of BO by SAP AG and its consequences
Twenty years of BO's market presence cannot be boiled down to a matter of case. Successive technological advance, growing data dependence, and information importance were the favorable factors that led BO to a due place in "great four of business intelligence vendors". Even though BO as an independent company lived its bests, year 2008 brought a completion of its acquisition by SAP AG.
Finally, the whole acquisition process engendered significant revolution in Business Intelligence market, as it has to lead to the full integration of SAP and BO BI offerings, and both sides' partnerships joint.
Despite the fact of company acquisition and increasing compatibility of solutions, both vendors' offerings remain separate. Thereupon, comes the questions about Business Objects BI and SAP Business Intelligence. Which one is better? Which one to choose? The answer isn't obvious and depends on a customer.
SAP BI and Business Objects features comparison
While comparing two similar solutions, it's important to call attention to three aspects: solutions' architecture, data access, and profits.
As long as extracting, transforming, and loading data (ETL) make up the essence of business intelligence, grows the importance of data management system. In this case, both solutions - Business Objects BI and SAP Business Intelligence - are extremely different. SAP BI is a singular data warehouse, itself supporting all the ETL processes, as well as data management, and providing reporting tools. The architectural model assimilated by Business Objects BI is slightly different, as it provides the broad range of tools separate for every process. Even though there are a lot of diverse tools, all of them cooperate well thank to open standards (CORBA, Web services, etc.). Both models are different, but it cannot be undoubtedly stated which one is better.
Second aspect, data access method, also differs. With SAP Business Intelligence, data from diverse sources is being extracted, loaded into a data warehouse. Next, data stored in OLAP cubes is being reported. This model of data accessing is commonly described as "business interface", enabling all types of the access without involving into a complex physical data structure. Once again, the solution used by Business Objects BI is slightly diverse. With BO, data isn't stored regardless to reports in OLAP cubes. Instead of this, high efficiency is being reached through concrete reports. Even though both models are different, each of them might be replaced by the other one. To reach that, using remote cubes becomes a necessity (SAP Business Warehouse) or using the data integrator (Business Objects BI).
Thirdly, features. Both solutions have their strengths, among which a few deserve pointing out.
Business Objects Business Intelligence:
- wins with more intuitive reporting (creating and sharing) interface,
- couples its main goal with wide range of tools extending its functionality.
SAP Business Intelligence:
- praises for its more advanced data store module,
- enables significantly faster access to data.
These features listed above are only chosen from much longer list, commonly similar for both solutions. All in all, the most meaningful features of both vendors' solutions supply themselves mutually, what was an additional factor favoring the acquisition.
Business Objects BI or SAP Business Intelligence - making the right choice
The choice between Business Objects BI and SAP Business Intelligence has always been difficult, but has become even worse since the acquisition. However, earlier and recently, it depends on the customer, especially the size of an enterprise, which is of the most meaningful factors. The second factor that should be considered, are all the former implementations of any SAP solutions. Along that, enterprises might be divided into five specific groups, being simultaneously a base for future solution choice.
- Large enterprises with no earlier implementations of SAP solutions - This is a kind of customers, which generally Business Objects XI is suggested for. The factor determining this choice is multitude and diversification of systems already reporting with direct access to databases. Why BO? Mainly because of its simplicity of cooperation with multiple databases and data sources. Also user-friendly interface and no necessity of moving already existing data to the new data warehouses argue for using Business Objects XI. Eventually, additional functionalities of BO XI might also be useful. On the other hand, large enterprises might prefer SAP Business Intelligence. Especially while attention is attached to reporting of large data volumes and data access efficiency. SAP BI guarantees the highest performance with possibilities of data extracting to off-line data warehouses and reporting with OLAP data structures.
- Large enterprises, which earlier implemented SAP solutions are important element of BI system in - Already existing systems (especially with SAP ERP) heterogeneity, might be a factor arguing for implementing typically hybrid solution. Already mentioned SAP ERP contains data that might be easily reported with SAP Business Intelligence, while any other data sources and more advanced BI appliances might demand Business Objects XI.
- Large and medium-sized enterprises, which earlier implemented SAP solutions play dominant role. Generally, regardless to a company's size, main role of SAP ERP determines future SAP Business Intelligence usage. Logically, the best integration might be reached when using tools from the same vendor's portfolio. Along that, ETL tools provided with SAP BI might work with currently stored data in the most efficient way. However, more advanced Business Intelligence appliances might demand implementing Business Objects BI.
- Medium-sized companies with no or only marginal earlier implemented SAP solutions - While considering this type customers, the choice depends on real company's needs. Generally, for most of their uses, Business Objects Edge is ordered, due to its simplicity (in oppose to Business Objects XI and SAP BI), but - simultaneously - even more functional.
- Medium-sized and tiny companies with no or only marginal earlier implemented SAP solutions - Finally, the tiniest and medium-sized companies as well should accurately consider their real needs. If they're keen exclusively on reporting, then Business Objects Crystal Reports would suit them best. It's a solution designed strictly for reporting (excluding most of other Business Intelligence appliances) and its main strength is price. Crystal Reports is relationally the cheapest solution, designed especially for customers who don't want to pay for functionalities they're never going to use.
Even though SAP AG do its best to calm down former BO customers, the most meaningful acquisition of recent years became a fact, and - as a consequence - a lot of changes are unstoppable.
What does it mean especially for Business Objects customers?
While the acquisition's results are more and more visible, SAP states to keep each BO BI and SAP BI separate. Despite all the promises, some specific relation among both solutions must have evolved. Along that, the basic, fundamental BI role has been confided to SAP Business Intelligence. According to proven SAP Business Warehouse, SAP BI might function as a base for diverse solutions. On the other hand, Business Objects BI saved its independence and - as well - might function completely alone, but also using SAP BW's foundation. The benefits of such cooperation may be meaningful - multiplied functionality, improved Enterprise Performance Management, etc.
Future of SAP Business Intelligence software
Even though the acquisition process has been announced to be completed, integration has to last much longer. First forecasts state the two-year period for integration, but no one can be sure of its success - there's still so much to be done that even two years might eventually turn out insufficient. What exactly changes are being prepared?
To begin with data extracting, both solutions Business Objects Quality Management and SAP Master Data Management are going to become fully integrated. Data management is announced to stay unmodified and still provide two separate, differentiated models of access. Reporting solutions are going to be intercepted from Business Objects. The point is to rely formatted reporting on Crystal Reports (to be significantly extended), and make Pionieer (the effect of current Voyager BO and SAP BEx Analyzer consolidation) solution responsible for ad hoc reporting. Furthermore, former Xcelsius and Web Application Designer solutions are going to be integrated in one, called Xcelsius+, responsible for cockpit creating and managing. In the matter of reports availability, portals of SAP and Business Objects are said to become integrated.
Was the acquisition a profitable move? For SAP AG - certainly. And for the market? There are two sides to every story. At once, the integration made SAP's offering much more attractive for customers, making it one of the best - if not the very best - solutions ever. On the other hand, the acquisition was a move against competition and its long-term results are difficult to be predicted.